COVID-19 could cause additional problems for seniors during extreme heat this summer

Updated: Jun. 25, 2020 at 5:12 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Summer is just starting to ramp up across the country with days of extreme heat likely ahead of us. Studies have shown that heat is likely the number one killer among all type of weather events—even worse than hurricanes and tornadoes.

A recent study that was published by Climate Central highlights the vulnerability of the elderly when it comes to heat.

This study says that the elderly are more vulnerable to heat because as we age our bodies regulate internal temperature less effectively. That coupled with a weaker immune system and other medical conditions all lead to increased risk.

“One specific issue that becomes even more of concern this summer with the COVID-19 pandemic is the amount of elderly that live in isolation. This population is more at risk when it comes to heat-related illnesses and death,” Dr. Jay Lemery, University of Colorado School of Medicine One, said.

In the study, Dr. Lemery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine fears this summer could be the perfect storm for the elderly for bad things to happen.

Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University, points to the fact that this summer especially there may be more vulnerable people home alone and isolating than usual. The combination of extreme summer heat and millions of people home alone and isolating is potentially catastrophic.

The study reports that some cities are including additional money for air conditioners and utility bills, closing streets to allow more outdoor space, parking air-controlled buses as cooling centers, and even renting hotel rooms for vulnerable homeless people.

Roanoke has already taken steps to address the heat concern after earning a grant from NOAA this summer to map what areas are hottest and most at risk from extreme heat events. This data could prove invaluable in addressing the increase in extreme heat events caused by climate change.

Dr. Lemery listed a handful of ways to check on elderly neighbors this summer:

  • Get to know your older neighbors before the weather gets hot
  • During hot weather, check-in by phone or video, or by socially distancing at the door
  • Ask detailed questions. Check for a bright mood and conversational ability
  • Ask about hydration and the temperature at home
  • Urination reflects hydration. Yellow, smelly urine indicated dehydration.
  • If you are unsure how the senior normally present, get help from a friend of relative
  • If the senior seems confused, listless or unresponsive, call 911.

COVID-19 and extreme heat disproportionately affects the elderly, but with a proper plan in place and responsible social distancing, lives can be saved this summer.

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